My research has focused over the last forty years on the Tamang, a Tibeto-Burman speaking population in highland Nepal. My research began with the study of their syncretic ritual system and its relation to social structure. I worked with Buddhist ritual practitioners, shamans, and sacrificers and linked their divergent practices to contradictions in Tamang culture. This initial research was followed by an intensive ethno-historical project which I conducted with Kathryn March and Suryaman Tamang. We reconstructed the everyday practices of four forms of forced labor that Tamang had been subjected to under the Hindu royal regimes that conquered the Tamang in the late 18th century. These forms of forced labor had continued up until the mid 1960s and thus there were old people who had experienced the domination of this period in the history of Nepal. I became interested in Tamang opposition to this feudal order particularly as generated in ritual practices. This interest led me to concern with the relationship of political power with sacred or magical power, a classic theme in anthropological theory and how ritual formed the basis for organizing direct challenges to the state. The relation of ritual and politics has continued to inspire my ongoing research in the context of important political transitions in Nepal, particularly the advent of a new democratic system in 1990, a Maoist insurgency from the mid-1990s to 2006, and most recently struggles to reform the state through a new constitution. During this period and continuing into the present, I conducted research on the genesis of new ritual forms and the rise of the indigenous peoples movements in Nepal. Parallel to my research on these ongoing developments, I have also taken an interest in the question of cultural rights as a form of human rights. Most recently, I have turned attention to the anthropology of disaster after the devastating earthquake that hit central Nepal, the impact of which was felt most extensively in the Tamang homeland and by the Tamang people.
Featured Faculty Research: David Holmberg
January 26, 2016